All posts filed under: Review

Brotopia—Analysis and Review

A review of Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang. Portfolio (February 2018) 320 pages.  Brotopia: Breaking up the Boy’s Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang subjects the software business to vigorous criticism. The dust jacket claims Silicon Valley is a “Brotopia” where “men hold all the cards and make all the rules.” Women are “vastly outnumbered” and face “toxic workplaces rife with discrimination and sexual harassment” where apparently “investors take meetings in hot tubs and network at sex parties.”  Her call to action is to break up the “boy’s club” and establish gender parity in software. Alas, such argument as the book offers is colourful mud-slinging on the basis of anecdotes. The book does not support its claims with any statistical or causal analysis. When such analysis is done Chang’s claims can be dismissed as lurid gossip based on harmful stereotypes. Employment Complaint Statistics in California Every year the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) publishes an annual report that gives figures on employment and housing complaints within the …

The Virtue of Nationalism—An Internationalist’s Critique

A review of The Virtue of Nationalism by Yoram Hazony. Basic Books (September 2017) 304 pages.  The last 30 years have witnessed many arguments about the end of nationalism and the nation state, ranging from Fukuyama’s end of history thesis to Thomas Friedman’s claim that globalization was making the world “flat.” But, as they say, reports of the nation’s death now appear to be exaggerated. Over the past few years, from Brexit in the United Kingdom, to the rise of right wing nationalists such as Donald Trump in the United States, Viktor Orban in Hungary, and Poland’s Law and Justice Party, the specter of nationalism looms once again. Yoram Hazony’s welcome new book The Virtue of Nationalism analyzes this political shift and offers a defense of its value. Hazony’s book is by far the most interesting and compelling articulation of the nationalist case put forward thus far. This makes The Virtue of Nationalism an important book, since those looking to defend the nationalist cause will surely want to arm themselves with its formidable intellectual resources, while …

The Fragility of the Liberal World Order

A review of The Jungle Grows Back: America and our Imperiled World by Robert Kagan. Knopf (September 2018) 192 pages. In its natural state, international relations is little more than a ‘jungle.’ There is no umpire to ensure fair play, no global police force to punish wrongdoers, and ‘good boys’ are rarely rewarded. Prevaricate or show weakness and you risk being picked off and consumed by bigger beasts. Prior to the end of the Second World War, European geopolitics was characterized by this remorseless logic. As states vied for hegemony, tens of millions were killed in war and conflict, and human tragedy and suffering were on scales almost beyond the imaginable. Today, however, we have complex forms of global economic interdependence, sets of global institutions that fuse us together and a transformed jungle that incentivize ‘good boys,’ as well as rules, norms and ultimately military power to make sure they remain good. How did our international jungle, an almost constant in human history, come to be so tamed? In his latest book, The Jungle Grows Back: America …

Nationalism and Liberal Empire

A review of The Virtue of Nationalism, by Yoram Hazony. Basic Books (September 4, 2018) 304 pages.  Saying that nationalism has become the number one topic in the current political and intellectual discourse is to state the obvious. Not a day goes by in the West, without another think-tank symposium, a journal article, an op-ed piece, or a long scholarly book, warning us of the rise of nationalism. With the pro-Brexit vote in Britain and the election of President Donald Trump promoting an “America First” agenda  — to the threat that this global political trend poses to the long-term survival of liberal democratic societies, to the foundations of the so-called liberal international order, and perhaps even to the entire Enlightenment Project as we know it. Send help! Much of this fashionable bashing of nationalism seems to almost take it for granted, that nationalism, which in essence is the recognition of the nation-state as the central force that provides stability to domestic and international political order, is the close political relative of, if not synonymous with, protectionism, …

Suspicion and the Corruption of the Liberal Mind

What is the difference between leftists and cannibals? Cannibals don’t eat their friends. ~attributed to Lyndon Johnson I am liberal to my core and like many liberals I’ve become increasingly disturbed by the escalation of totalitarian impulses on the Left. For the past six years I’ve been exploring the phenomenon and teasing out its underlying dynamics. While many writers and thinkers have been going head-to-head with extremists and confronting their ideological inconsistencies, the book I’ve found most helpful is Rita Felski’s The Limits of Critique (University of Chicago Press, 2015). Unlike other writers, Felski approaches the dynamic obliquely and her foundational point is more subtle. How we feel is almost always the first signal we have about the nature of our surroundings. For example, all of us have had the experience of walking into restaurant with a friend; all of us engage in some form of the following when we do: We stop just inside, pause a moment, and get a feel for the place. And every one of us has, at one time or another, …

Did British Merchants Cause the Opium War?

A review of Song-Chuan Chen’s Merchants of War and Peace: British Knowledge of China in the Making of the Opium War, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press (January 12, 2017) 240 pages. The war had a name even before its first shot. The first recorded use of the moniker, the ‘Opium War,’ was in an 1839 piece in the London Morning Herald; within months it would be echoed across the benches of Parliament and across the carronades of the fleet sent to punish the Chinese crackdown on British trade. The war’s nomenclature revealed from the beginning the multivalent views the British public held towards the war: it was at once the “unjust and iniquitous” Opium War — to use Gladstone’s well-known phrase — as well as the patriotic ‘China War,’ as its proponents wanted it to be called. The historiography of the war is similarly divided among varied lines. Some see the war as reflective of China’s failure to catch up to Western technologies; others emphasize the British desire to avenge their slighted national honour as the …

Intersectionality—A Review

A review of Intersectionality by Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge. Flatiron Books (April 2016) 260 pages. With Intersectionality, Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge have provided a handy explanation of the theory’s foundational concepts. In accessible language they sketch the history of intersectional thought, provide helpful definitions of its concepts, explain the main debates within intersectionality to outsiders, and competently elucidate the topics with which intersectional theorists are preoccupied. So, as primer on a currently fashionable branch of academic theory, Intersectionality is quite useful. But if their book is pedagogically valuable, it is substantively objectionable. Perhaps the most striking aspect of intersectional theory is the extent to which it has become a totalizing ideology. Many commentators—critics and sympathizers alike—have often failed to appreciate this. Intersectionality is not just a branch of feminism, a means by which to advance women’s interests, or an analysis of matters of social concern. It is an all-encompassing philosophy that advances a unique politics, metaphysics, aesthetics, and epistemology, as well as its own (rather bizarre) interpretation of history. It is effectively a secular religion.1 The …

The Three Languages of Politics—A Review

A review of The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides by Arnold Kling. Cato Institute (May 2017) 146 pages.  …the existence of alternative (or opposing) conclusions is something quite reasonable to expect among intelligent and informed individuals who read the complicated evidence differently, or who weigh the intricate factors or the perplexing probabilities differently. ~Thomas Sowell, The Vision of the Anointed Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about how to improve political discourse. We’re slowly waking up to the divisive nature of social media, the news cycle, victimhood culture, and identity politics. We’re seeing how outrage and contempt, though they make us feel righteous, are often counterproductive. And we’re becoming more aware of our biases, in hopes of trading reflexive action for reflective thought. Yet despite these realizations, political discourse remains fraught. Like sick patients struggling to follow the doctor’s orders, people act out old habits even as they learn they’re destructive. Many of us stick to our news feeds and trusted sources, preferring the familiar sound of our echo chambers to …

Unfabling the East—A Review

A review of Unfabling the East: The Enlightenment’s Encounter with Asia by Jürgen Osterhammel (translated by Robert Savage). Princeton University Press (June, 2018) 696 pages. Late nineteenth century Europeans were arrogantly certain of the inherent superiority of their civilization. Edward Said’s influential book Orientalism (1978) describes representations of the East as inverted projections of Western superiority. Europeans looked down on the East and created myths that flattered the supposedly more advanced and civilized imperialists. Said’s thesis is controversial, but there’s no question that headstrong imperialism was an intellectual force at the apogee of Empire. The problem is that the critique of representation has itself become dogmatic, losing sight of the diversity of historical sources and unable to reflect critically on its own practices. Postmodern critiques either accuse Europeans of ignoring difference, because they are blinded by universalism, or of the opposite: exaggerating difference and creating the stigmatised ‘Other.’ The diagnoses can be diametrically opposed, but the common theme is that Europeans’ prejudices render them unable to understand Asia. Edward Said’s acolytes have become the new …

‘She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity—A Review

A review of She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer. Dutton (May 2018) 656 pages.  In this book, Carl Zimmer tries to lay out how our ideas and knowledge of genetics have developed over time, and where we are today. He mixes in discussion of the social impact of these ideas. Some of those discussions are reasonable, some are not. He covers a very wide range of topics, from contagious cancers in clams to recent developments in genetic engineering. Before I go any further – Zimmer is wordy. He has things to say, but he never uses one word when ten will do. The facts are always part of some long-winded human-interest story. If you like that sort of thing, you may like this book. I cannot say that I did. The real problem with this book is that, to Zimmer and many other people, genetics itself is the enemy. The facts, not the discipline, particularly in how they apply to humans. We now know that everything is …